AFAC: Can There ‘Bee’ Welfare Concerns with Beekeeping?

As an employee of Alberta Farm Animal Care, animal welfare is something that is always very high on my radar, so when I became a Beekeeper this past year, that didn’t change. Now, as you are reading this, you are probably thinking one of three things:

Bees are insects- who cares?I hate bees!OR Of course bee welfare is important, bees are vital to the ecosystem!

If you found yourself affiliating with 1, 2 or 3, please make sure to keep reading.

‘Bee’fore I got interested in bees, most of my animal handling knowledge was with cattle, and really there isn’t much difference. Essentially, the bees will treat you, how you treat them!

Below you will find the top three factors that I always try to take into consideration to minimize the amount of stress that my bees have to endure.

1. Weather – Bees are very small insects, and therefore the weather can really effect the health of the bees, especially in the early spring when temperatures can still be quite low. While the Queen bee is in peak laying season (up to 2000 eggs a day), you want to be extra careful as the bees are working their hardest to regulate the temperature in the hive. Any unnecessary openings during extreme temperatures can effect the welfare of the bees and the success of the hive. Our rule of thumb is if there are bees flying in and out of the hive, we are good to go.

2. Time of Day – ‘Bee’lieve it or not, the time of day can really minimize stress on the bees too. Obviously hives need to be checked- that is our responsibility as a beekeeper, but if you check the hive while most of the bees are out foraging, it makes things a lot easier for both you AND the bees. Not only does this increase the amount of room in the hive, it also really reduces the numbers of bees making it less likely for you to get stung, accidentally squish bees and allow you to get a better picture of the success of your hive. Win, win, win!

3. Gloves – One of the best pieces of advice I ever got before getting into beekeeping was to never wear gloves. Crazy right?? That’s what I thought too. However, the point of not wearing gloves is to encourage the beekeeper to think about things, and move slowly and carefully. Bees wont sting you unless you give them a reason to (usually), so as a beekeeper it is good to work with that in mind.

4. Smoker – The reason this one is last on the list is because in my opinion, if you are working with bees this should be a no brainer. Every time the bees are inspected the smoker should be judicially used. There are different theories as to why the smoke calms the bees, but it does, and this should be used to your advantage. A few puffs at the beginning of the inspection is usually all you will need. Your burning material is up to you, but personally we use untreated burlap.

All beekeepers are different, and there are many different ways to keep bees, but in my experience the three points listed above make for happy bees AND a happy beekeeper!

Source: Latest from Alberta Farm Animal Care